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Iraq: helping widows support their families

19-11-2013 Feature

Many Iraqi women, having lost their husbands in the conflict, find it very difficult to support their families. For five years, the ICRC has been offering the most vulnerable Iraqi widows small grants to start a business.

Salwa*, a 28-year-old woman from Ninewa, married in early 2004. For her and her husband, 2004 was a year of blissful matrimonial life, capped by the birth of their daughter at the end of the year.

In May 2005, a group of unknown armed men abducted Salwa's husband and her brother at the entrance of Mosul city and pressed their families for a ransom to be paid within two days. With the help of her husband’s relatives, Salwa managed to collect the requested amount of money. "I was ready to sell everything I had and even to sell my eyes or kidneys just to save the life of my husband," Salwa says.

The ransom was paid on time but her husband was killed. His body was thrown on the roadside . "My life was changed from happiness to nightmares and sadness," explains Salwa.

Taking care of an infant daughter, Salwa had to assume the roles of both mother and father. This was not easy, especially in Salwa’s society, in which, she bitterly comments, “when a woman loses her husband, nobody shows mercy to her.”

Salwa suffered from psychological problems. "For the first two years since the killing of my husband, I felt crazy, unable to control myself." She continues, "But day by day I realized that I had to overcome the challenges for the sake of my little daughter."

Salwa had sold everything she had – her small house and all her belongings including a little gold – to pay for her husband's ransom. She was obliged to live in a small room in the house of her husband's poor family. She relied on a monthly welfare allowance from the government, which did not cover all her basic needs. She was able to survive because of occasional assistance from her relatives.

In 2012, Salwa met an ICRC team that had come to her city to present the organization's micro-economic projects. This programme had been launched by the ICRC in 2008 to help poor widows like Salwa start small projects and become financially self-reliant.

Salwa wanted to open a shop, so she applied for a small grant. Her project was approved and she opened her shop in a tiny space of her house. With the launch of her business, she has gradually reintegrated into society. "Now I feel better physiologically! I'm calmer, more stable and in control of myself," Salwa confides.

With her shop, Salwa is now able to earn between 300,000 and 350,000 Iraqi dinars (between 250 and 290 US dollars) monthly, allowing her to cover her and her daughter’s basic needs.

The success of her shop has also allowed Salwa to restore her pride in being a mother. "Before, I could never afford to buy my daughter clothes for Eid, or toys and all these things that every child is supposed to have," she volunteers. "But now I am very happy: this year at Eid, I was able to buy new clothes for my daughter! Thanks to the grant I received, I can start a new life."

With a total population of more than four million, Ninewa governorate continues to be one of the regions in Iraq most affected by violence. The ICRC has been implementing projects in Ninewa for the past ten years and has recently scaled up its operations. The newly opened office in Mosul city allows the population to better benefit from ICRC activities and services such as micro-economic initiatives, safe water, primary health-care centres and detention visits .

* name has been changed to protect privacy


Salwa in her shop 

Salwa in her shop

Salwa and some young customers 

Salwa and some young customers